I have just returned from a week of carnival in Brazil and now I would like to sleep forever but unfortunately my university degree won’t let me. I also have conjunctivitis and an ear infection… but aside from all the ailments I carry and the moaning I’m doing now, I did have an incredible time. I flew to Brazil the day carnival began, and was immediately thrown into the middle of it all. It was my first carnival and I was very excited. Let me set the scene – carnival is basically a big party. Carnivals happen in every town and city in Brazil, the main ones being in the larger cities. I went to the carnival in a small town in the state of Sao Paulo where my mother grew up, called Votuporanga.
The carnival in Votu, as they call it, is very different to how I had expected, and very different to anything I had seen on television before. In the evening there is a show, a lot like a music festival, which goes from midday until 10 o’clock at night (I was informed that it is considered very uncool to arrive before 5pm). At these shows there is FREE ALCOHOL, including cocktails (in my opinion, the best part of carnival), and free food. The music is basically popular American and Brazilian music, all with a samba twist. Lots of drums and happy, smiley singers, accompanied by some attractive Brazilian girls on stage to get people in the mood. People then dance around like crazy. I did a little observing and noticed that Brazilian dancing is very different to how we dance in England. In England, we tend to dance from the waist up. It’s all head banging and arm waving. In Brazil, they dance from the waist down. It’s all side stepping and booty shaking. They also dance with a hell of a lot of energy. They end the night with as much liveliness as they began it with; something I found difficult to keep up with, even with all the dancing I’ve done over the years in clubs in the UK.
After 10 o’clock there is a break for a few hours, for people to eat or nap and wash, and then the night time part of carnival begins at around midnight (although I was again informed that it is uncool to arrive before 2am). This part of the night involves basically walking up and down a street fully prepared for the carnival event, following the trio (a carnival decorated truck with a band on top of it). Sounds strange, I know, but it is quite fun. The songs played by the band on the trio all seemed to have specific routines to go with them. Following many attempts from my cousins to teach me the moves, I did my best, but couldn’t quite match up to the Brazilians who dance the same routines at carnival every year. To gain entry into the carnival for five evenings and five nights – Friday to Tuesday, you have to buy an abada, a t-shirt (red for girls and blue for boys, although the colours change each year). This t-shirt costs 450 reais, an equivalent of £160, but with free food and alcohol it’s a definite bargain.
While I was in Brazil, I saw glimpses of Rio, Salvador and Sao Paulo carnivals being shown on television. What was shown on TV was what I had expected the carnival I was attending to be like. A series of floats with people on them, dancing through the streets wearing brightly coloured, elaborate and barely-there costumes. The procession is taken extremely seriously, as it is in fact a competition. The competition is called the ‘Desfiles de escolas de samba’, meaning a show of the samba schools. All the best samba schools in the city compete against one another to put on the best show and to win the competition, and therefore the shows they put on get bigger, brighter and bolder every year.
I asked my family in Brazil why they preferred to go to the smaller carnival in Votu, than go to the big carnivals, and the answer was that the bigger carnivals are simply unaffordable. I have every intention of saving up enough money to be able to go to Rio carnival one day, but for now, the memory of Votu carnival, along with the conjunctivitis and the ear infection, are enough for me.